The historic Elephant & Castle statue
Those local to or familiar with Elephant & Castle will know that, since 1965, a statue which illustrates the area’s very name has stood as the entrance to the Elephant & Castle Shopping Centre.
Over the years though, the fibreglass sculpture constructed in the image of an older pub decoration of the same design has come to mean more than what it depicts. The Elephant & Castle statue has been iconised as a symbol of community and pride to the local area.
Elephant & Castle has been a major road junction in the capital since Roman times, hence it was in 1765, a coaching inn called the Elephant and Castle established itself to offer a welcome retreat for coach traffic coming in and out of the south of London.
It is possible there was some form of tavern even earlier, however. There is a reference to the ‘Elephant’ in Shakespeare’s comedy Twelfth Night, which was written around 1601. ‘In the south suburbs, at the Elephant, is best to lodge’, wrote the playwright.
The first landlord may have chosen the name Elephant and Castle in homage to a group of medieval craftsmen who made swords and knives. Called the Worshipful Company of Cutlers, its crest, granted in 1622, shows an elephant carrying a castle.
The story goes that the elephant’s tusks symbolised the ivory handles and the high regard in which the cutlers’ implements were held, while the castle illustrated the sheer size of the elephant.
The coaching inn, which later became a pub, served this area of south London well, but was demolished in 1959 after suffering huge damage during the wars. However, the name – and the popular drinking spot – lives on, and the Elephant & Castle pub continues to welcome customers at its current location on Newington Causeway.
Due to the development of the Elephant & Castle Town Centre, our neighbours are moving the statue to Castle Square, after some works to repaint it and return it to its former glory.
Castle Square will be but another in its history of homes – from the statue’s very first iteration above a pub until 1959, to its home as part of the shopping centre for over half a century – and we are excited by its new home next door to Elephant Park.